Conservative Party leader David Cameron has been told to “shut up about marriage” by some Conservative MPs who say he risks alienating single parents and cohabiting couples.
The Conservatives have pledged to recognise marriage in the tax systems and abolish the couple penalty in the benefits system if they win the General Election next year.
But some in the party are concerned that such a move would stigmatise unmarried couples.
Earlier this month Mr Cameron spoke about the benefits of marriage.
He said that “evidence shows marriage is a good institution which helps people stay together, and commit to each other. A society that values marriage is a good and strong society.”
However, his critics say he may be seen as moralising about people’s personal lives and called for alternative relationships to be recognised.
Some senior female Tories, backed by some male backbenchers, intend to raise their concerns with the Tory leadership in a private meeting.
One female MP, who declined to be named, said that Mr Cameron should “just shut up about marriage”.
She added: “It’s not our job to be pronouncing on people’s private lives.”
Eleanor Laing, the Shadow Justice Minister, said: “It is still right to say that marriage is the basic building block of our society.
“What I always say is that families come in all shapes and sizes and that has to be recognised.”
Niki Molnar, of the Conservative Women’s Organisation, said: “There is a difference between encouraging people to marry and stigmatising those who are not [married].”
Earlier this year a new study found that choosing to cohabit rather than marry can more than double a woman’s risk of becoming a single mother by the time her child reaches five years of age.
The study was based on 15,000 mothers and featured in a collection co-edited by Harry Benson of the Bristol Community Family Trust.
In June a leading family judge, Mr Justice Coleridge, warned that marriage urgently needed to be reaffirmed as the “gold standard” of relationships. He said an “epidemic” of family breakdown was damaging children.
The Tories also plan for couples to be given leaflets on marriage guidance and counselling at register offices to help prevent further marital break-ups.
However, at the same time Mr Cameron is insisting that he supports civil partnerships on a par with marriage.